Monks Refuse to Obey Eviction Orders

-- by Christos Papoutsy


In an unprecedented move, Patriarch Bartholomeos of Constantinople and local Greek authorities have blockaded basic food, medical supplies and heating oil to 117 monks at the largest monastery on Mt. Athos, Esphigmenou. The Greek daily newspaper Kathimerini reported that authorities issued the first eviction notice on December 14, 2002 giving the monks one month to leave the premises. Patriarch Bartholomeos gave no explanation of the legalities or ecclesiastical justification for this action at the time. A legal advisor to the monks, Ifigenia Kamtsidou, indicated that they had not been given an opportunity to respond to charges before the eviction notice was issued, in effect, disregarding constitutional procedures.

Picture Left: Aghia Lavra, the most senior monastery of Mt. Athos.
According to Abbot Methodios, “All vehicles have been prohibited from coming to our monastery--even those carrying food, medicine and heating oil. Pilgrims and visitors, even members of our own family, are also prohibited from coming to our monastery. We maintain the true Orthodox faith and this has angered the Patriarch and others because we will not change the faith. All we have done, and will continue to do is dedicate our lives to praying for the souls of our fellow man and for the world.”

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Now under siege and threatened with extinction, the brotherhood of monks cannot pray for peace anymore, unless they follow and support the Patriarch’s new political ideology. Holding up a knotted rope of prayer beads, Abbot Methodios said that the monks would respond to this eviction by praying and challenging the order in Greece‘s highest administrative court. “We will not leave our monastery,” he said. “We believe in the truth of Orthodoxy as it has been given to us by the saints and the fathers of the church, and we will not change that to please others.” The monks live a life of spiritual and monastic tranquility in the unbroken tradition of the brotherhood that has occupied the monastery for over a thousand years. “These heavy-handed and unchristian actions by the Patriarch demonstrate that he does not have the love of the Orthodox faith. Publicly he preaches unity with Catholics and other non-orthodox, and privately he cuts off food to those who disagree with these policies. We will continue to pray for his redemption, but we will not change our beliefs.”

The monks at the largest and most historic Esphigmenou monastery on Mt. Athos, the spiritual center of the Orthodox faith, disagree with the Patriarch’s unorthodox teachings and actions, particularly as it pertains to unity with the Roman Catholic Church, and as a result are facing his wrath. The Patriarch has failed to get the monastery to change its Orthodox beliefs by this unprecedented blockade, and is now threatening to use his power with the Greek state to have all the monks forcibly evicted from the Monastery, on January 28, 2003.

Their monastery is considered the most doctrinal on Mt. Athos, having been established 1,000 years ago on a remote section of the peninsula. These Athonites have long been considered the guardians of true Orthodoxy, protectors of the faith against heresies and doctrinal apostasies. For decades the monks have shown their opposition to any reconciliation with or accommodation to Catholics by adorning their monastery with black flags and a giant banner reading, “Orthodoxy or Death.”
Simonopetra Monastery of Mt. Athos

Tensions between these conservative monks and the Phanar have continued to mount over a series of ecclesiastical disputes since the early twenties over changes to the ecclesiastical calendar. In the 60s nearly all monasteries ceased to commemorate Patriarch Athenagoras after he held a meeting with Pope Paul VI and both leaders withdrew a series of anathemas--or damnations--issued in 1054. Refusing to bow to constant pressure since that time--even the expulsion and forcible removal of Russian Orthodox monks from St. Elias Skete in 1992--these Athonites have repeatedly refused to change their brand of Orthodoxy to suit prevailing fads, political or secular. Steadfast prayers and “nays” are their only defense against those who would have them change long-established canons. Not only are these recent changes uncanonical, according to them, but they herald a series of future ecumenical changes that will permanently and irrevocably separate Orthodoxy from its roots as the true faith.

The Esphigmenou Monastery is where the great St. Gregory Palamas was abbot, and where St. Anthony left for Russia to establish Orthodox monasticism. The monastery was established in the first millennium as an autonomous spiritual center for the Orthodox Church. For over a thousand years the monastery has provided a place of prayer and peace for those who chose the monastic life. It is now threatened with extinction.

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